Maybe it’s because my son Johnny is the youngest of five or maybe I’m just getting crabbier as time goes by, but after attending so many orchestra concerts for my five children who have each played—and for the most part retired from—every conceivable musical instrument, I found it hard to get into the groove of Johnny’s end-of-year concert last night.
The recital came at a tough time to take in a concert, wedged as it was between the two year-end field trips that I’m chaperoning (my 5th time going to the local farm), the Invention Convention (for the last two weeks we’ve eaten dinner around Johnny’s plywood contraption on the kitchen table), and closing house ceremonies, where every child reads what seems like all of his or her poems and stories from the previous school years.
I know I’m supposed to enjoy the moment, but when the moments come so close together I feel rushed—and guilty. Like I’m living to cross off the To-Do list. I know I am doing this, and I promise to slow myself down, but then another end-of-year event hits—the 8th grade dance, 6th grade field day, the family picnic at Merwin Meadows.
Please don’t get me wrong—I’m 100 percent behind Johnny’s musical aspirations as I was with my four older kids. For three years now, I’ve dropped Johnny at Cider Mill School every Tuesday morning at 6:55 a.m. for cello practice, cracking icicles off the car with my bare hands in midwinter just to get out of the driveway on time. I’ve waited through his hour-long lessons after school, never quite immune to the shriek of cello strings mixed with the sound of the tiny flutist in the next room missing the musical point all together. And I’ve rented (and had repaired) too many cellos to count.
But last night’s recital was the longest I’ve been to in years I think, even though I arrived late due to my other son’s baseball practice and trying to get the frozen fish sticks on the dinner table. Due to my frenzy, I sat in the way back of the auditorium, feeling like the worst mother in the world.
Had Johnny been my first, or even second, child instead of my 5th, I would have come 30 minutes early to get the front-and-center seat, perky with my fancy camera with multiple zoom lenses. I would have invited the grandparents, gotten Johnny a new suit for his stage appearance. Maybe even bestowed my blooming virtuoso with a small gift after the concert.
Instead, the mother I am today watched my son from a way back seat, in his worn khaki pants and hand-me-down button up shirt, while the conductor, Mr. D, a man I’ve known for more than a decade, who somehow still looks 15, talked about his love of the music and the children and introduced each song as he always does. And as I always do, I gave him creativity points for his endless variations on the repertoire—finagling the theme song from a James Bond movie in with a Bach concerto. Mr. D. doted on those wee musicians, and though the bow-tied first chair violist sneezed as Mr. D. spoke, it was sweet. Bittersweet.
I considered my mother self now as compared to nine years ago, certainly not the mother I’d hoped to be, clearly imperfect. Well-flawed. But I’ve learned on the job, I thought as I soothed myself into the too-small metal seat at the very back of the auditorium. I told myself this was my 32nd elementary school recital—a true statement. Perhaps it was time to let go of the guilt and give myself some slack. I was there after all. I was always there.
I fidgeted with my camera phone while the children attempted the last bit of the second movement of something. I settled in, took a breathe, and snapped a photo of what I thought might have been the top of Johnny’s bow, moving in time.
Do you make it to every end-of-year school event?